‘We need the government to protect the poor, not the rich’

Brother Tagoy Jakosalem

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'If the government cannot help us, who needs government?'

There are vultures even in times of disasters – even after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). After suffering a natural disaster, the people are again victims of political disasters.

How can these politicians and companies live with a clear conscience? 

In just one year, more than a meter of Negros Occidental’s shoreline sand is lost; while climate change experts predict a significant rise in sea levels every 5 years. The rise is more evident and faster along the fishing community of Sagay City.  

“The sea water is eating up the shoreline in a fast pace,” St. John the Baptist Parish Pandanan parish priest Fr. Aron Buenacosa said.

The dumping of waste from the factories, fishpond companies, ethanol plants in rivers, estuaries, and shorelines is an alarming culprit. These factories, industrial fishponds, and power plants are destroying the life cycle in rivers, estuaries, and shorelines.

In the fishing village of Barangay Pasil, E.B. Magalona, the problem is obvious. “Sang una daghan pa kami makinhas na batitis (shell) diri sa hunasan, pero subong nangawala na sila”, said Arnulfo Dajay, a local fisherman in the area. (Before, we can easily gather batitis shells along the shoreline. Now, we are surprised that they are totally lost.) 

In these realities, what is the value of issuing Environmental Clearance Certificates (ECC)? In fact, almost all of the violators have ECCs. By command responsibility, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is accountable for what is happening. More than protecting the landed and rich individuals and companies, they should protect the people – whom they pledged to serve.

An environmental sustainability plan is most needed. This policy can start from the community level ­– addressing the areas of sustainable infrastructure, community safety, and ecosystem regeneration.

There is a need to encourage both the DENR and the Climate Change Commission (CCC) to take concrete action. More than just education and planning campaigns, they must act with a sense urgency.

Post-disaster opportunists 

The immensity of destruction is there. But developers and landed families are grateful for Typhoon Yolanda. Like the case of the island of Sicogon, a community in the municipality of Carles, Iloilo.

The Sicogon Development Corporation (SIDECO) is working to revive Sicogon as a P10 Billion world-class island resort. The island is cordoned by SIDECO and the community is scheduled for relocation because the area is calendared to be developed into a classy resort.

“We are not sure if we are still allowed to live,” said one resident.

Many of the residents lost their homes and do not want to be relocated outside of the island. They are asking for access not only to the 351 hectares of the identified public land, but more importantly, to the sea and the shoreline – their main source of living. They are making an appeal to Ayala Land, which the community suspects is a development partner of SIDECO, to listen to their concerns and to prioritize a pro-people development plan that will not affect there lives and livelihood. 

DESTRUCTION. The polluted waters of Magnanod river in Barangay Pasil, E.B. Magalona, Negros Occidental. All photos by Br. Tagoy Jakosalem

In Lakawon, an island part of the city of Cadiz, the inhabitants are offered a comprehensive plan to be relocated in the city. This is the worst plan endorsed by the National Housing Authority (NHA) of the Office of the Provincial Governor. In this, NHA offers to build 5,000 houses, in view of developing Lakawon island into a world class resort. 

“The Ledesma family that owns Lakawon is donating about 4 hectares of land in Cadiz Viejo for the relocation of the 200 families, who will still have access to the sea, and the Cadiz City government will see to the construction of the houses with the help of the NHA and the provincial government…” a local daily in the city of Bacolod, The Visayan Daily Star reported last December 28, 2013

In a remote island in Bantayan, called Mambakayaw (dako); a fishing community exists now rising from the horrible effects of Typhoon Yolanda. Last December 2013 the residents received the demolition order to vacate the island from claimant, with having a tax declaration of the property. “Barugan namo na dili jud mi mamahawa (We will fight not to leave the island)” said Rogelio Taglukop, a resident of Mambakayaw.

Until today they are still living in makeshift houses using tarpaulins and other discarded materials, the people have not received any rehabilitation support from both the local and national governments; except from the assistance of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, UNO-R Community Development Office, Carmelites, Recoletos, Heartanonymous.org, and Alternative Solidarity Initiative Network (ASIN). 

Ripe for revolution 

“Let the public know our pressing concerns” Fr. Aron Buenacosa says. “These are affecting the lives of our people, they are helpless, the government is duty bound to protect us, and we cannot see the presence of the government” he adds. 

The people are angry in the countryside. “if we complain, we will be silenced, the hacenderos will close our access roads in their turf. they will not support our community. they will make us hungry.” said a community leader, who refused to be identified. 

STRUGGLE. The Turib family in their home in the island of Mambakayaw, Bantayan, Cebu.

The situation, is ripe for revolution. As a development worker who visited these sites of struggles, It can be said that armed struggle can be an option if the government refuses to help. “if the government cannot help us, who needs government?” said Fr. Ferdinand Hernando.

Cross-checking our government agencies

How can we renew the social landscape of the Philippine countryside? If the government agencies are disregarding the angst of the people, we realize that they are only protecting the interests of the self-serving rich and landlords. The NHA & DENR should check the ownership of the islands and islets, whether they are still government-owned, leased or under dispute; and avoid colliding with government officials, and landed individuals.

There is a need now, to stop the Reclamation of all our shorelines. We have almost killed the entire ecosystem habitat of our shore & coast lines. The need to abolish the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) can be a step for a comprehensive solution. The irony of it all, they have this seemingly ‘good’ vision, as stated in their website: “We increase our nation’s resources and accelerate its development for future generations by creating new frontiers reclaimed from the sea.” This calls for a complete abolition of the agency; how can they foster development for the future generations by destroying the ecosystem habitat?

Our future rests on protecting the ecosystem. Theirs is a vision devoid of sustainable development that protects the future generations. All our government agencies are interrelated, we can even include the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR); let our government agencies serve the best interest of the people.

Let us think and act for our people. We have seen in reality how our fellow Filipino people managed to live in the most worst situations – in poverty and nothingness. Along the Yolanda trail, let us offer and give a sense of hope and urgency. – Rappler.com

Br. Tagoy Jakosalem is a visual artist and cultural worker. He is currently doing ministry at the University of Negros Occidental – Recoletos in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.

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